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Why Does Hollywood Keep Whitewashing? (And Why Do We Let It Happen?)

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"I'm so sick of this," my friend writes over G-Chat. She sends a link to accompany her annoyance and I click.

It's news over Paramount and Dreamworks Studios' decision to cast Scarlett Johansson in the live-action adaptation of the Japanese comic series Ghost in the Shell. She's slated to play Major Motoko Kusanagi, a cyborg leading an elite police task force in a futuristic Japan.

But the biggest question isn't over the plot. It's whether or not Hollywood can sell the idea a Caucasian actress can portray a Japanese character.

If you read that last sentence, rolled your eyes and thought: "Typical Tinseltown, whitewashing another role that could have gone to an Asian actor," I don't blame you.

After all, it's tough to be Asian in Hollywood right now.

If you're not the punchline for a Chris Rock crack at the Oscars, you're reminded there aren't many roles for Asian actors. Case in point, this infographic following the backlash from #OscarsSoWhite reminding us how few lead roles Asians get in movies.

Even when there are roles rooted in Asian culture, actors get shafted when they're won by their white counterparts. Tack on the reports of how Paramount and Dreamworks commissioned what's essentially digital yellowface to make actors look Asian and that's just insult to injury.

But then there's the alternative response.

It's something that looks like a human-rendition of the shrug emoji (¯\_(ツ)_/¯) and sounds something along the lines of "Who cares about whitewashing? I just want to know if the movie's worth my money."

And while that's an understandable attitude, it's also a sign you've never read the manga -- something Paramount and Dreamworks are probably counting on to make this movie successful.

Because if you've gone through the 12 chapters penned by creator Masamune Shirow, you'll agree Scarlett Johansson isn't the best casting choice for the Major.

Not because she isn't Japanese, but because she lacks the range to convey the nuances of Motoko Kusanagi.

While the animated movies and TV shows depict Johansson's character as a stoic badass, the 1989 manga -- which the movie will be based on -- features a Major who takes time to grow into her role. At the onset, she's more light-hearted, mocking her superiors and teasing her squad mates like a sister teases her brothers.

ghost in the shell major
(Meet Major Motoko Kusanagi in the bottom left panel)

ghost in the shell major
(The Major doesn't take anyone's crap. Especially when it comes to her boss)

They're scenes that are suddenly tough to imagine when this is what we have to look forward to:

On paper, Johansson looks like a good casting choice. The actress (or her stunt double) has proven herself more than capable of a physically-demanding, femme fatale role.

We've seen her at this since 2010 when she debuted as the Black Widow in "Iron Man 2," and we'll see it again when she suits up for "Captain America: Civil War" on May 6.

But the physicality of Motoko Kusanagi is just one aspect of her character. And while it's weird doubting if an actress can pull off the human aspects of a cyborg, it's a legitimate and nagging issue that makes you wonder, "what else could they get wrong?"

Because if the studios can't get something like the protagonist right, what hope does it have of conveying the complexities surrounding the manga's themes of self-consciousness, the definition of what it means to be human, and the evolution of mankind?

Good luck using CGI to fix that.

If you're not upset this is another example of Hollywood's race issues, then fine. But at the very least, understand your indifference shows execs this behaviour is ok -- that they can disrespect the source material and get away with it again and again.

And if it starts with producers playing fast and loose with casting white actors to make a more accessible film (and cash along the way), who's to say such decisions won't bleed over when it comes to supporting cast or the setting or any other crucial component to the cyber-punk universe that made the Ghost in the Shell the franchise it is today?

Sure, this is an adaptation. Hollywood is allowed to make adjustments. Critical components would certainly be lost in translation if you swapped drawings with actors and hoped for the best.

But every adjustment means the end product is closer to an empty shell of the material it's meant to pay homage to.

So keep this in mind as 2017 approaches: For every tweak and change movie executives make for the sake of accessibility, for the sake of reaching a wider market, for the sake of making more money, it's only them who stand to benefit.

Not the actors and actresses whose careers are tied to the success of the film.

Not the fans carefully watching developments from Paramount and Dreamworks with baited breath.

And certainly not the average moviegoer whom execs are counting on to stay ignorant; to be satisfied with yet another action film when you could have had so much more.

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